The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry faces a major challenge: digitizing building practices amid an avalanche of disruptive technological change.
The industry is particularly challenged by interoperability issues between different construction project stakeholders. Manually re-entering data from application to application; time spent using duplicate software; time lost to document version checking; increased time processing requests for information (RFI); money orders for data translators—all are drivers of non-interoperability costs that total into the billions of dollars.
Since 2013, the Construction Progress Coalition (CPC) has sought to meet the demands of this industry disruption by helping unlock the potential of construction’s digital transformation. The grassroots nonprofit organization based in Denver, Colorado, works to unite experts to define and adopt new standards for the industry in the digital age. Above all, the CPC aims to improve construction outcomes by aligning project insight demands with data interoperability needs.
Among the primary tools the CPC has created to accomplish its goals is the Common Data Exchange (CDX), a structured data framework by which the construction industry can better determine what data is critical, who needs to provide it and how to implement it through standards and technology integrations. Ultimately, the CDX provides construction professionals with “a digital literacy for project stakeholders to define interoperability requirements with the help of open data standards and gamification,” according to the CPC’s website.
Partnering with Bluebeam
In the spring of 2019, Bluebeam initiated a partnership with the CPC to fund and promote impactful research from the industry’s academic sector that would go toward the shared goals of contributing to construction’s digital transformation as well as to help students poised to be the next generation of construction professionals play a leading role in driving the change.
Bluebeam donated $20,000 in the form of a research grant to support the initiative, which would be led by student interns from general contractor The Walsh Group and a graduate student from the University of Texas.
Each student researched a construction workflow through the CDX framework. Each was granted a base scholarship of $2,500 following the presentation of their research in September 2020. Two $2,500 bonus scholarships were awarded following the presentations. The remaining $5,000 was awarded to the graduate researcher, who also produced a white paper outlining their research upon completion.
The CPC + Bluebeam Scholarship Recipients:
Abdullah Alsuhaibani: Graduate Student – University of Texas
Focus: Quality Inspections
Trina Cook: Intern at The Walsh Group – Purdue University Northwest
Focus: Request for Information
Andrew Foley: Intern at the Walsh Group – Purdue University
Focus: Production Tracking
Jenna Levi: Intern at the Walsh Group – Ohio State University
Focus: Document Control
Improving industry workflows
The Bluebeam Blog interviewed two of the award-winning students to get an overview of their research. Both offer valuable takeaways for the industry to adopt and follow.
Quality Inspections: Abdullah Alsuhaibani, graduate researcher, University of Texas
A former civil inspection engineer in Saudi Arabia, Alsuhaibani focused his research on Quality Management Workflow of the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Design-Build Projects.
Central to Alsuhaibani’s research was the exchange and record keeping of four documents among the project’s stakeholders.
- Nonconformance Report
- QA/QC Checklist
- Featured Inspection Report
- Daily Activity Report
- Design Builder – in this case, Zachry Construction
- Owner Verification Firm
- Independent Quality Firm
Using the CDX framework, Alsuhaibani proposed a number of workflow alterations, reducing analog transactions and streamlining data management such that data re-entry is limited and there is a single source of truth for the documents. Moreover, Alsuhaibani’s findings proposed quality management workflow solutions that would increase transparency and collaboration by having a Centric Management System.
Alsuhaibani said his experience conducting this research helped him learn how to ask more impactful questions to discover pain points and areas for improvement in the construction industry.
“I interviewed many people throughout this research and it improved my interviewing skills,” he said. The experience also helped him understand industry problems not just from a researcher’s perspective but from the point of view of the people conducting the work.
“Abdullah’s research was of great benefit to us,” said Todd Sutton, construction technology manager at Zachry Construction, who also served as Alsuhaibani’s mentor during his research. “It got our team together to start strategizing on how we can leverage his research’s findings.”
View Alsuhaibani’s full presentation here.
Request for Information: Trina Cook, intern at The Walsh Group – Purdue University Northwest
Cook, a senior studying civil engineering, researched the RFI workflow for the 45th Street Railroad Bridge project in Munster, Indiana. The $20 million bid-build project included a train bridge as well as an underpass for cars to keep traffic moving.
“I was immediately attracted to the RFI workflow because I had worked with it on a school project before,” Cook said. “And I know that there’s so many problems all the time and so many delays just from that one workflow.”
Cook’s RFI research specifically focused on the build phase of the project on impact areas including collaboration dashboard, design documents and cost and schedule control.
- Owner – Munster, Indiana
- General Contractor – The Walsh Group
The primary focus of Cook’s research was to take the project’s existing RFI workflow—in which documents are created and submitted via a private storage system and emails are the main communication vehicle between stakeholders—and turn it into something more streamlined using CDX principles. Under the existing workflow, general contractors and subcontractors are the only stakeholders involved on the project level, RFI is often not a priority for third parties and poor communication abounds.
Cook’s proposed solution to this workflow problem after concluding her research required that the RFI report have the ability to be viewed and edited by all stakeholders. It also included implementing new technology to all stakeholders in the RFI process, instigating meetings to explain the new software as well as mandatory training.
With this approach, all entries into the software would be automatically synched to each stakeholder’s software, reducing the potential for duplicate work, and response times will also be visible to the project team as automatic alerts can be sent out, making the status of an RFI viewable to all stakeholders.
“Conducting this research forced me to delve into the inner workings of construction,” Cook said. “Typically, if I were to do my internship without having done this research project, I would’ve just done the task assigned to me and not really delved into the construction field as much.”
“It definitely gave me a head start and understanding on how everything is a little bit connected,” Cook added, “especially with RFI and how they’re connected to submittals and then how that’s connected to quality. I found a lot of connections through this research project that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
View Cook’s full presentation here.